Spanish Speakers in New York

Political turmoil and economic crises pushed Spaniards and Latin Americans to New York City throughout the 1800s. Cubans in particular fled northward during the long battle for independence from Spain. But poets, educators, and politicians from Mexico to Argentina also headed to New York, some for as little as a season, others for years on end. The city was more than simply a refuge; it was an attraction in its own right. New York was a beacon of modern life, a center for publishing and communications, and a place to do business or get an education without traveling to Europe.  
 
Latin Americans and Spaniards took in New York's crowds, shopping, and social life, observed American institutions, and communicated their insights to compatriots through letters, travel accounts, and newspaper articles. These accounts make clear that while they sought and found inspiration for enhancing freedom and progress back home, they also were keenly aware of the city's faults, notably its rampant inequalities. They frequently longed for the comforts—and warmth—of home.

William Momberger, Beldad y la bestia. Nueva York: D. Appleton y Ca. libreros-editores, 1864. New-York Historical Society. In the 1840s, Daniel Appleton had begun translating English books into Spanish for sale in South America, including children’s classics and a Pronouncing Dictionary of the Spanish and English Languages. By 1867, Appleton was exporting nearly fifty Spanish titles a year, using a new printing plant in Williamsburg to meet demand and providing translation work to locals such as José Martí.  
William Momberger, Beldad y la bestia. Nueva York: D. Appleton y Ca. libreros-editores, 1864. New-York Historical Society.

Herman Normann (Sweden, 1864–1906), Portrait of José Martí (1853-95), 1891. Oil on  canvas. Reproduction. Cuban Heritage Collection, University of Miami. José Martí, escaping certain imprisonment in Spain for supporting Cuban independence, arrived in New York in 1880. For the next fifteen years he worked in the city as a journalist.
 
From his office at 120 Front Street, Martí published the revolutionary newspaper Patria, and wrote insightful essays on Latin American politics, economy, and culture—as well as essays on New York City—for newspapers and journals in cities such as Buenos Aires and Mexico City.  He helped found New York’s Spanish-American Literary Society in 1887 and profiled American writers like Walt Whitman and Ralph Waldo Emerson; wrote influential volumes of poetry such as Versos Sencillos; and createdthe popular children’s magazineLa Edad de Oro,which combined educational articles with fairy tales and verse.
 
Keenly aware of the positive and negative aspects of North American society, Martí never pressed for U.S. involvement in Cuba’s affairs. He feared North America’s imperial ambitions: “Once the United States is in Cuba," he asked, "who will get her out?" Instead, in influential essays like “Nuestra América,” he argued that Latin America should develop independently, in accordance with its particular conditions.   
Herman Normann (Sweden, 1864–1906), Portrait of José Martí (1853-95), 1891. Oil on  canvas. Reproduction. Cuban Heritage Collection, University of Miami. 
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